NEW YORK -- A man charged with building a pipe bomb to try to attack police, soldiers and other government targets has been indicted on terror charges, according to an indictment filed Wednesday in the rare state-level terror case.
It accuses Jose Pimentel of both the initial terror charges against him – weapons possession and conspiracy as terror crimes, according to the document.
He "attempted to build explosive devices as part of his plan to use violence to influence the foreign policy of the United States government by intimidation and coercion," the indictment says.
His lawyers, Lori Cohen and Susan J. Walsh, called the case one of "police overreaching" and a self-serving informant who honed in on a broke, lonely and curious 27-year-old.
"This case, whatever it is, certainly is not terrorism," they said in a statement.
Pimentel, who is being held without bail, is scheduled to be arraigned next month. A court date that had been set for Thursday was canceled.
The Dominican Republic-born al-Qaida sympathizer and Muslim convert was busy assembling his homemade bomb when he was arrested, authorities said. He later told police that he believed Islamic law obligates all Muslims to wage war against Americans to retaliate for U.S. military action in the Middle East, police said. He also wanted to undermine support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the indictment.
Also known as Muhammad Yusuf, Pimentel maintained a website detailing his belief in jihad, or holy war, and told the informant he wanted to attack targets that included police cars and stations, post offices and soldiers returning home from abroad, authorities said.
He and the informant had discussed his violent intentions as far back as August, with Pimentel consulting bomb-building instructions he'd found online, the indictment said. After shopping trips to secure supplies, Pimentel and the informant began stripping Christmas light wires, scraping match heads, drilling pipe and otherwise preparing the weapon in November, the indictment said.
Pimentel "crossed the line from violent rhetoric on his Internet sites to building pipe bombs to be used against our citizens," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.
The indictment also includes attempted weapons possession as a terror crime, plus a non-terror weapons charge. If convicted, Pimentel could face life in prison.
Most terror cases are federal, but this one was brought under a state terror law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said circumstances compelled investigators to act fast using state charges, but police had apprised federal authorities of the case earlier. Two law enforcement officials, however, have said the FBI stayed out of the case because agents felt he wasn't inclined or able to act without the informant's involvement. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the case.
Kelly said in a statement Wednesday that "the indictment illustrates the fact that a dangerous plan to kill and injure soldiers returning to New York was disrupted by good police work, especially by the NYPD Intelligence Division." It has faced scrutiny recently after a series of articles by the AP detailed the Intelligence Division's efforts to monitor Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pimentel's lawyers are emphasizing the informant's role, saying Pimentel was "prime pickings" for someone out to help himself with his own legal trouble. A person familiar with the matter has said the informant's case was a minor marijuana arrest; the person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the information hasn't been made public.
"We believe that jurors and New Yorkers in particular, who have suffered real threats and know real tragedy, are sophisticated enough to know the difference between a real threat and a manufactured one and will reject an unchecked police power that attempts to broad-brush political discourse and religious affiliation as universally threatening," Cohen and Walsh said.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers had said plea negotiations were under way last month; the defense lawyers had repeatedly waived a legal timeframe for an indictment or hearing. Cohen said Wednesday that both sides used the extra time to conduct their own evaluations of the case more than to discuss resolving it.
In another Manhattan case brought under the state terror law last year, a grand jury declined to indict two men on the most serious charge initially brought against them – a high-level terror conspiracy count that carried the potential for life in prison without parole. But Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh were indicted on lesser state terrorism and hate crime charges, including one punishable by up to 32 years behind bars.
The two are accused of plotting to attack synagogues. Ferhani's attorneys have said the case reflects police entrapment. Mamdouh's lawyers have said the allegations against him don't meet the requirements for a conviction under the state terror law.